Contact: Nadeam Elshami/Drew Hammill, 202-226-7616
Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi held her weekly press conference today in the Capitol Visitor Center. Below is a transcript of the press conference.
Leader Pelosi. Good morning, everyone. Today is a very special day. One that we have looked forward to for a very long time. It marks the ending of the war in Iraq. Secretary Panetta officially took down the flag and handed full responsibility over Iraq to the Iraqi people and their government. With this act, because of the bravery of our troops, the sacrifices of their families, and the leadership of President Obama, we are able to say the war in Iraq is over. Our troops are coming home, coming home for the holidays with their families.
President Obama promised to end the war in Iraq responsibly. Promise made; promise kept. 150,000 troops were in Iraq when President Obama took office. That number will now be reduced to just a couple thousand. As we mark the end of the war, we want to always thank our troops and their families for their service and sacrifice to our country. We honor the nearly 4,500 Americans who made their ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and the tens of thousands of our service-people who were wounded there.
It was a great [honor] for me to preside in the two previous Congresses over sessions of Congress that did more for our veterans than any initiatives since the GI bill was passed in 1944. Our commitment to our troops and to their families is not one that ends when their service ends in the military or ends when they come home. It is a commitment that we have made to them, not [just] during their service and not just during their lives, but forever to their families and to their memory. In the military, when we are at war, the military says: “on the battlefield we will leave no soldier behind,” and when they come home, we will leave no veteran behind.
Christmas is 10 days away. The President and Democrats in Congress have been very clear. We are not going home without enacting a payroll tax cut for America's working families and extending unemployment insurance for millions of Americans. The payroll tax cut that the President proposed would put $1,500 in the pockets of 160 million Americans. The unemployment insurance extension is not only good for individuals, it has a macroeconomic impact. As the Macroeconomic Advisers have stated, it would make a difference of 600,000 jobs to our economy.
After avoiding the issue and opposing the payroll tax cut, the Republicans reluctantly passed through the House a bill that was doomed from the start. It had the seeds of its own destruction there. The best analogy I can use, it's like someone saying to her fiancée: “yes, I'll finally marry you, but I can only do that on February 30th.” That day is never coming. Nor is the day coming when the President will sign the bill that the Republicans passed, having issues that have nothing to do with payroll tax like the Keystone pipeline and, again [a] diminished proposal for the payroll tax cut and the unemployment insurance.
Under the Republican bill, one million Americans will lose their unemployment insurance in January, 2 million by February. And the difference between the President's bill and the Republicans bill is 3 million people losing unemployment insurance. Again, this is important because this is about the safety net, not just for these individuals, but for our economic system, that in times of unemployment we have a safety net and that is important, again [a] safety net for individuals but a safety net for the economy. And again, this money when received is immediately spent, is urgently needed, and injects demand into the economy, creating jobs. It's only a decision. And if the Republicans would make the decision that they want to get some results, we can find areas of agreement. We are doing so on the appropriations bill. We can do so for the payroll tax cut if there is a sincere effort to enact one into law.
Negotiations are going on that I hope will be fruitful. But I think it's really important to note that it is a decision that the Republicans are late coming to the table to make. In fact, we are all haunted by Senator McConnell, the Minority Leader in the Senate, saying: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term President.” The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama—not the single most important thing we want to do is to create jobs for the American people, to grow our economy, to educate or children, to keep our country safe. The most important thing is to make the President a one-term President.
We all understand politics. Campaign time is when we field our candidates for office, our candidate[s] for President of the United States. That's the place to make the fight. But to decide not to create jobs because that creates a political climate that is not conducive to the President's reelection, that's irresponsible. And so if and when they make a decision, it's not hard to get from here to there. We are willing to negotiate, to go to the table, to do what is necessary. Some of that I think is beginning to take place, because the American people know the President and the Democrats in Congress made this payroll tax cut too hot for the Republicans to handle. So they went from "no" to we'll put it in our bill, but only on February 30th, meaning it's not a sincere effort.
Let's get real. Let's pass a real payroll tax cut. $1,500 in the pockets of Americans who are right now, as they prepare for Christmas, for Chanukah, for Kwanza, for the new year, figuring out if they can make ends meet and still be able to have Christmas holiday fare and toys for their children hopefully under a tree.
With that, I would be pleased to take any questions.
Q: Madam Leader, so Democrats in the Senate have dropped the surtax. What do Democrats want to pay for this thing with? If the Republicans have passed something that has some payfors, what do the Democrats want to do?
Leader Pelosi. What do you mean they passed something with payfors?
Q: Well, they passed a bill, whether you agree with it or not. So what's the Democrats…
Leader Pelosi. Well, what do you call the Republican payfors? You mean in the Senate where they say they will pay for it with a 10 percent cut in Federal employees?
Q: What's the...
Leader Pelosi. The point is that I think it is a sign of cooperation and willingness to remove obstacles to having an agreement by saying, okay, that's something that you can't agree to. So I take that as progress.
As you know, with the 60-vote requirement in the Senate, this is something that's going to have to be worked out. It is something that can get 60 votes in the Senate. I think I have great confidence in Majority Leader Reid's ability to get that done, without putting any suggestions on the table.
Q: Just to follow up on that, you and other Democrats have been stressing the fact that you want the wealthier Americans to pay for this middle class tax cut. Are you disappointed that the White House and the Senate Democrats are essentially giving up on that?
Leader Pelosi. I don't think they have given up on that. It is still something to be considered. This is not the last bill to be passed. And the issue of fairness [for] all of us, everybody at every economic level of our society should be paying their fair share, taking responsibility for how we go into the future, create jobs, educate our children, have a good retirement for our seniors, safe and clean neighborhoods for our children to thrive, our national security ensured, all in a fiscally sound way. Well, we all have to take responsibility for that.
So while that may, in this negotiation, not be something that is a fit because it hasn't—the timetable has been pushed to the limit, I think that fairness in our tax code and simplification of the tax code will always be part of how we go forward.
Q: If Republicans in the House move forward with this plan to unilaterally pass a spending bill, how will Democrats react to that?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I hope they have the votes for it. Because if they don't, they won't be getting any cooperation from us. This is just another exacerbating the crisis. Let's make matters worse. When my kids were growing, up every time we had a little set, to which was with five children from time to time, we always had a label “Miss Make Matters Worse.” And this is what they are doing: Make matters worse. Instead of trying to come to a place where we have a global agreement on how we give a tax cut of $1,500 to America's—160 million Americans, how we have unemployment benefits for those who are out of work through no fault of their own and meet our appropriations requirements for the end of the year.
Q: Madam Leader, what do you put the actual odds of a government shutdown at this point, given where negotiations are?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I certainly hope that there won't be one. I think that it is possible. It is only a decision that the Republicans have to make that they want to avoid a shutdown by coming to the table and coming to their senses about what is fair. To get the job done. To get results for the American people instead of creating a crisis.
Q: Leader Pelosi, are you supportive of the idea of passing a short-term CR to get past Friday so that you can work on negotiations on the omnibus and get the conference report done?
Leader Pelosi. It's not a question. If we don't have an agreement, that's what we're going to have to do. We're not going to be shutting down government. There would have to be a short-term, but let's hope that as we are speaking here, the light has turned on and that people have an idea about what will work and that the Republicans will yield on their point. Because so far what they have done is put the suggestion of a bill on the table that would give the illusion of the full payroll [tax] cut, but has obstacles to its enactment. Let's hope they will remove those obstacles. Let's hope that we will have a negotiation in the Senate that meets the Senate 60-vote test. That is what we have to have. If we don't have that, we will have to have a short-term. I hope that it won't be necessary. By the time we leave this room we will have some good news.
Q: You have said that there should be no cuts to Social Security, but one of the Social Security trustees has said that extending the payroll tax cut will eventually, it will be a major step toward moving Social Security from a worker-contribution program and more like a welfare program because less money will be put by workers into Social Security.
Do you think that the payroll tax cut extension could hurt the current state of Social Security?
Leader Pelosi. No, I think that one person may have said that. Others have said that a second year extension would not have an impact in the regard that you explained. It would not hurt Social Security. I don't think this should be endless, but I think one more year in an economy of this kind, again with the funds, the $1,500 that is put in the pockets of people who need to spend it will inject demand into the economy, create jobs, produce more, will result in more people who are paying into the Social Security system. So I think one more year is, according to the readings I have—you may have somebody who said one thing. Of course, with all of this, there are different opinions. And there is an overwhelming, I think, preponderance of evidence that this will not hurt Social Security to go one more year.
Q: At this point, what is your major objection to the spending bill that the House Republicans hope to vote on?
Leader Pelosi. Well, there are a number of objections to the bill, but the more important question is for the White House because they have the signature. We've made great progress, our negotiators, our appropriators, working together to eliminate some of the really horrific suggestions that the Republicans have put forth. Stunning. But they didn't, they couldn't stand the test of daylight and so they had to back off them. But again, our caucus supports the President. If he wants to veto the bill because of some of the provisions that are in there, we won't be voting for a bill that has them.
Thank you all very much. Happy holidays to all of you. I hope that may be the last time I say that to you, but who knows.